An Unnecessary Conflict

Bert Williams

Using the music of heaven as a benchmark, there may not be nearly as much relative difference as some like to imagine between what they presently deem superior and inferior music.

The conflict between lovers of classical music and proponents of contemporary Christian music seems to me to be largely unnecessary. In many cases the argument emerges from the backgrounds of those doing the arguing rather than from objective examination of the music itself. The difficult word there, of course, is "objective."

Just like every other musician, I am a product of my former life experiences. I grew up in a fairly simple, conservative Adventist home where classical music was not served up as regular fare. I did theology degrees at Pacific Union College and at Andrews University while largely spurning their music departments, choosing rather to guitar-pick my way through the '70's. Slowly I awoke to the wonders of Baroque, Classical, and Romantic music and my Iife was immeasurably enriched. In the '80's I went back to school and completed a music degree. The classical portion of my CD collection blossomed and began taking over the house. To the consternation of some, however, I still like James Taylor and Eric Clapton. Careful inspection would reveal some jazz recordings in my collection as well.

Our academy choral organizations recently participated in a performance of Handel's "Messiah" which involved a mass choir of 400 members accompanied by a fine orchestra. During an early rehearsal in which our chorale began work on "Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs" my students were awe-struck by the music. None had heard it before. Some said it was the most beautiful harmony they had ever heard. Others commented on how powerfully the music depicts the Biblical text. It was one of those days when a music teacher is grateful that he has the privilege of doing this job.

The controversy aired in the recent issue of Notes (Autumn 1997) over the observations by Roy Adams in his Adventist Review editorial (September 12,1996), which seemed to imply classical music doesn't move the heart toward God as much as other types of music, made for interesting reading. My chorale students would have taken him to the mat on that one!

On the other hand, for musicians trained in the classical tradition to think that contemporary Christian music does not move hearts toward God is to ignore reality, and to miss a blessing. If they cannot experience the blessing, they should not try to deny it to others.

Many theologians tend to argue about theology rather than experience it. Christian musicians are often no different in their arguing about music. I suspect we may discover in heaven that our best attempts on this earth at both theology and music were utterly deficient. Using the music of heaven as a benchmark, there may not be nearly as much relative difference as some like to imagine between what they presently deem superior and inferior music.

Can Satan use music for his purposes? Of course. But I'm thinking the discord created by opinionated people attempting to elevate mere opinion to a level somewhere near divine inspiration suits his purposes even more.

Meanwhile, God seems able to work through a wide assortment of bumbling human efforts to draw others to him. Adventist musicians of all persuasions should avoid the arrogance of thinking that theirs is the only way.

The above was written by Bert Williams when he was serving as campus pastor and music teacher at Maxwell Adventist Academy in Kenya, Nairobi, Africa. A native Californian he has worked as a pastor, Bible teacher and music teacher in British Columbia , Canada and in Idaho and California.


These comments were printed as a Personal View in the Spring 1998 issue of Notes, a publication of the International Adventist Musicians Association.